Note: This is a criticism of an article called Fanaticism in the Name of Science written by the Swedish intelligent design creationist Krister Renard. The translations are my best attempts to preserve the meaning of the text. Use the Google Translate service if you want to check my translations.
Krister Renard is a run-of-the-mill creationist, using the same old tired arguments that creationists have been used for many decades in a feeble attempt to undermine the conclusions of evolutionary biology, one of the most well-supported disciplines in modern science. He also gets very upset by progressive politics such as same-sex marriage, opposition to the death penalty, feminism and immigration. He regularly spews his corrosive venom over many professions, such as journalists, psychologists, politicians, lawyers and biological scientists, often proposing grand conspiracy theories where the establishment is trying to brainwash the population and oppress conservative Christians. Even a cursory look at his website reveals a lot of tragic and comical statements. However, there is one crucial exception; Renard is fairly good at refuting Holocaust deniers and have written a couple of articles about it that everyone should read. Giving credit where credit is due.
The article in question, called “Fanaticism in the name in science; or the story of the kind polar bear; or when animals became humans” and has a couple of overarching themes, including the supposed societal romancing of predators, that biologists are not real scientists but elitist and ignorant psychopaths who get aroused by watching nature programs where predators slaughter their prey, and then Renard finishes off with the classic attempt at trying to associate biologists with Nazis. Although Renard has a tendency to ramble on and on for several paragraphs, I will try to quote and discuss the important sections. Let us look at these issues and more.
1. Societal Romancing of Predators?
Renard starts the article by discussing the danger of coming face-to-face with a hungry polar bear and presents a news item where a polar bear attacked humans. He reacts strongly to a biologists being quoted in the news who said that the polar bear in question had serious damages to the dental nerves that was probably very painful. Renard reacts strongly to this segment.
Why do biologists attempt to portray all predators as kind and cute and lovely and basically harmless (unless they have a toothache)? What is their driving force? It is a mystery to me. I shall willingly confess that my attitude to biologists in general is not particularly positive. I do not know how many TV programs I have seen, where one or more lion tear a little antelope calf to shreds. Through it up in the air and them start eating the backside, while the antelope is still alive. And then the narrators shrieks in falsetto, “Do you see these magnificent jaws that evolution optimized to tear apart and to kill! Look at these fantastic fangs! Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t evolution beautiful? Personally; I do not think that it is wonderful at all. I think it is disgusting to watch this type of programs and my sympathy lies entirely with the antelope calf.
The biologist in question did not, at least not in the part that Renard quotes, claim that this means that the polar bear deep down inside is friendly to humans, just that this dental injury, which probably made it harder for the polar bear to eat, may help to explain why it attacked the human settlement. However, Renard interpreted the quote to mean that the biologist actually thought that it meant that the only explanation for the attack was that the polar bear in question had a toothache and that this somehow implies that polar bears are vegetarians if they have healthy teeth and that humans are in no danger of being attacked if they come across a polar bear. This, Renard argues, is a prime example of the romanticism of predators that is supposedly common in our modern society. Of course, this is an absurd exaggerated interpretation of the small quote from the biologist. No one thinks that polar bears are harmless or vegetarians. Well, of course, young earth creationists (as well as Renard as we will see below) believe that all predators where vegetarians when they where created, because, according to the argument in question, there was no death before sin.
But wait a minute! Wasn’t the argument just a moment ago that there is a societal romanticism of predators, not an accurate portrayal of the more dangerous sides? Are biologists (like David Attenborough, who is a prominent speaker in many popular nature films) trying to hide the fact that predators are dangerous, or are they celebrating their viciousness with almost sexual arousal? This is a clear contradiction, and Renard does not seem to notice it at all.
However, even if predatory animals are not evil in themselves, I see nothing good or beautiful in shredding an antelope calf to pieces. Rather, I view it as a consequence of the fallen creation. I do not believe that anything like that existed in the original creation — the creation that the Creator calls good — but my belief is that it has to do with the coming of evil into the world.
In other words, Renard must believe that predators where vegetarians before the fall. If so, why did they have such adaptations to predation if they just sat around all day and ate bananas and coconuts? Did this evolution occur after the fall? Then it is not clear why Renard takes such a harsh stance against modern evolutionary biology. In any case, the claim that predators where vegetarians before the fall is such a laughable claim that it is hard to take seriously anything of Renard claims about biology.
2. Do Biologists Have a Naive View of Science?
In continuing his endless tirade against biologists, Renard accuses biologists of being fanatics and not understanding the basics philosophy of science. In between, he misrepresents the Big Bang, abiogenesis and evolution, but that will be critically examined in the next section.
A lot of biologists have a very peculiar view of what science means. A view that seems unique for biology. They do not seem to understand the most basic things when it comes to the philosophy of science. They clearly do not understand the difference between hypothesis and theory and seems to believe that theories gives us absolute truths, while in actuality, theories gives us useful models and nothing else. The absolute truth lies outside of the domain of science. […] The fanaticism of biologists when it comes to evolution and the origin of all things is both repugnant and scary. It is in equal to religious fanaticism.
This is, of course, nothing but ideologically based stereotyping and out-group homogeneity bias. No serious biologist thinks that science proves things in an absolute sense and that it is, in fact, creationists who regularly confuse theory and hypothesis, thinking that theory means a speculative guess, rather than an overarching explanation supported by a mountain of evidence. It is true that a theory is an explanatory model that strives to be useful, but not all models are equal: some are much more speculative than others, whereas some scientific theories (such as evolutionary theory, the germ theory of disease and the atomic theory) are so well-supported that it would be unreasonable to reject them. Evidence for them have accumulated over time and they independently converge on the same general conclusion. In practice, we can tentatively accept these as “true” in that the evidence are so impressive that it is very unlikely that they will ever be shown to be false. It is still possible, so it was not been proven in the mathematical sense, but very unlikely.
It is also pretty interesting that Renard sprinkles religious metaphors throughout his text, thereby implicitly suggesting that religion is something negative. In order words, his criticism is not only pseudoscientific, it even tries to look like criticism of religion.
A serious limitation is that biologists almost never ask the most foundational questions. rather, this shows that they deal with natural history than proper science.
This is no more a limitation of biology than it is a limitation of medicine. Are biomedical researchers trying to come up with cures for diseases not doing science simply because they do not focus on foundational questions, such as the question of the origin of universe or its physical constants?
The entire point with having different scientific disciplines is that it allows scientists to focus specifically on particular areas. Applied science is not unscientific. Also, Renards makes a curious error here, since natural history uses observational rather than experimental methods. This does not mean that natural history is not science, but just a different branch of science. This also explains why many biological museums usually have the term “natural history” in their names.
3. Misunderstandings of the Big Bang, Abiogenesis and Evolution
There is just so many false claims about these three areas that it is hard to know where to begin.
They mean that it is obvious that our universe arose by itself out of nothing.
No, the Big Bang is not a explanation about the origin of the universe, but about the development of the universe. Also, cosmology is not the same as biology. Renard is probably thinking of Dawkins “The God Delusion” book, but he discussed the multiverse hypothesis, not the idea that the universe arose out of nothing by itself.
It is also, according to biologists, obvious that this universe by chance happens to have the very special properties that is needed for carbon chemistry (life) to exist (the probability that the physical constants in a randomly generated universe will get the values that allow carbon chemistry is basically zero).
Again, biologists are not cosmologists and cosmology has little to do with biology. No one is claiming that the physical constants are random. What makes Renard think that the values could have been different? That each value is equally probably if they could have been different? A lot of the supposed fine-tuning is merely life being fine-tuned to the universe, not the other way around. It also makes little sense to say that the universe is fine-tuned for life if life is so rare in it. In the end, the fine-tuning argument is an appeal to ignorance; we do not know how this occured, therefore a creator must exist.
The reason that one still think that the spontaneous origin of the universe is a fact is that it just has to be that way. The alternative, a Designer, is ruled out by definition. In other words, one let ideology limit one’s unbiased search for truth.
But wait a minute? Didn’t Renard state earlier that science wasn’t about finding absolute truth, just useful models? Another contradiction gone by without notice. Also, supernatural causation is not ruled out by definition. That would be philosophical naturalism. Science applies methodological naturalism, which means that natural causes are the focus for science because it has been productive in the past and because there does not really exist any methods for the scientific acquisition knowledge about the supernatural. How do you hold a divine creator god as a constant?
Furthermore, the majority of biologists believe that life, in the form of simple cells, arose by itself exclusively though random processes, where simple organic molecules became more and more complex and finally combined to the first cell.
No, they do not. Renard is confusing spontaneous generation, which is the notion that fully formed cells and organisms arise out of existing matter by chance, and abiogenesis, which is the gradual increase in complexity by unintelligent and unintentional, but not random, natural processes. Just reading a popular science book about abiogenesis, such as Hazen’s Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin or even typing in RNA World Hypothesis or Iron-Sulfur World Hypothesis into Google, would reveal the flaws in Renard’s straw man.
Renard goes on to accuse Richard Dawkins of believing that life arose by spontaneous generation, apparently failing to understand that Dawkins has discusses non-random models for abiogenesis in several of his books, such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker.
And last but not least, these primitive cells have then, through random changes (variation and mutation) and natural selection (based on a competition for territory) evolved to the myriad of living organisms we see today.
Unsurprisingly, this is also a straw man, because evolution is not just random mutation and natural selection. Quite the opposite, there are several dozen more important mechanisms for the generation of variation and a few more mechanisms for evolution than just natural selection. An overview by the biologist Allen MacNeill can be found here.
4. Quote Mining Dawkins
Renard continues by quoting Dawkins on “the total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation.” Predictably, Renard cannot correctly characterize Dawkins position, but instead assert that this means that
Dawkins confesses here what a horrible worldview evolution leads to. That which he writes shows the true nature of evolution. […] Evolution means only killing and eating. It has no beuty, it only is.
In the article in question (God’s Utility function in Scientific American), Dawkins was arguing that genes themselves do not care who or what gets hurt, as long as the DNA is passed from generation to generation. Far from making moral claims or admitting that evolution leads to a horrible worldview, he is simply explaining the notion that the gene is the unit of selection.
5. Are Biologists Elitist Psychopaths?
Here comes Renard’s mental breakdown. When watching a seal being eaten by a killer whale, he sympathize with the seal cub. However, the sympathy of the biologists
… lies obviously only with the killer whale. “Ohh these magnificent jaws that evolution has optimized… Ohhhh…Isn’t it beautiful?! Isn’t it wonderful?! What teeth! Look how the blood is spraying! Ohhhhh”! That would be like a police officer describing, with the same level of enthusiasm, a sadistic killer who keeps his victims locked up in the basement and tortured them and then eats them. “Do you see these magnificent whips on the wall and all the knives? Isn’t it wonderful how these can rip apart human tissue! Do you see the blood splatter on the floor? Isn’t it beautiful!” Such a police officer would probably be viewed as mentally ill. Or what about a butcher who, in similar terms, describes a slaughterhouse. “Ohh, look at this wonderful meat grinder! It can grind twelve tons of wonderful, bloody meat per hour to shreds. Isn’t it beautiful? Drool, drool!”.
It is hard to explain how absurd this accusation is, but there are a few points that are worth pointing out. It is not the suffering in the natural world that is exalted, but rather, what is being admires is how simple processes like evolution can produce integrated complexity and well-adapted animals and of the facts and models that scientific work reveals. Biologists are not mentally ill psychopaths just because they enjoy the results of science.
I am pretty confident that many biologists consider themselves enormously superior to regular people. Normal people may think that some of the things I have mentioned above are discussing and revolting. A biologist feels the ûbermenchen’s drunken surge of power when he coldly watches the suffering and death in nature from his exalted, scientific perspective
Again, this is nothing more than creationist stereotypes and rhetorical madness. What reasons do Renard have for his position? Why does he generalize like this? I can think of an obvious answer: Renard simply forces himself to believe that his opponents are elitist psychopaths to be able to rationalize his own anti-scientific creationism.
6. Romancing of Predators, Take Two
Renard returns to the topic of the supposed romancing of predators, this time discussing the wolf in a Swedish context.
The romancing of predators is probably largely a city-dweller phenomenon. Spoiled people, living in larger cities, for who nature is just a means to pleasure and not a reality, cheered on by the biologists, love to flood Sweden with wolves.
The reason that hunting of wolf is regulated is because of scientific and political reasons. This is not the same as “flood[ing] Sweden with wolves”. Wolves are so called top predators, and their removal usually have serious top-down effects and trophic cascades on the entire ecosystem and because it has been politically decided not to let the wolf die out in Sweden. I do not know enough about the wolf, but let us look how it works with the cod in the sea around Sweden.
For most people, the cod is just a fish that is being eaten. However, removing this top predator has wide and long-term effects on the ecosystem, such as reduction in cod leads to a reduction in smaller fish (that otherwise would have been eaten by the cod), which leads to a decrease in things that the smaller fish eat, such as shrimp, which in turn lead to an increase in algae, which makes eutrophication worse. This, in turn, damages eelgrass, disrupting habitats for young cod, making the problem into a downward spiral. Ecology is a fairly complex area and there are many more levels and effects that I have not discussed here.
Also, both the wolf and cod are in the risk zone for being endangered species in Sweden.
7. Comparing Biologists with Nazis
In a final stroke of absurdity, Renard starts talking about how the Nazis had laws against animal cruelty.
Nazi Germany had, already in the 1930s, exactly like Sweden today, laws protecting the wolf. Since no humans that lived 1934 had any memories of their own of the wolf, it was an easy task to deceive people, including farmers, that the wolf was harmless and that it was beneficial to have wolves in the woods and fields. And that is exactly like Sweden today
Renard is thereby insinuating that Sweden is heading the same way as Nazi Germany, exalting the value of non-human animals and thereby degrading the value of human life. But there is more! Renard now makes the argument that evolution was a critical part of Nazi ideology.
In the same way, all ethical questions where reduced to biology. Society simply became applied evolution. Because of this, mass murder was committed on chronically ill people in Germany (the weaker is cleaned out by evolution) and several hundreds of thousands of people, including at least 20000 children, where murdered (I am not speaking about Jews, but regular Germans) in the so called T4-program. The Holocaust had the same starting point
Jews are not regular Germans? That’s harsh.
Evolution is an explanation for the origin of the diversity of life; it is not a moral theory. Also, evolution is about the differential reproduction of gene variants, not about competing groups. Finally, Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species was even banned in Nazi Germany. Seems kind of weird of Nazis to ban a book that is supposedly the basis for the Holocaust.
We are actually forgetting a very important book here, namely the Christian Martin Luther’s absurd book On the Jews and Their Lies, which was horribly antisemitic (after all, Jews are said to have killed Jesus) and even contained a plan for getting rid of the Jews that looks very similar to the Nazi Holocaust. This, rather than Darwin’s book discussed above, was a very prominent influence on the Holocaust.
Renards article repeats the same canards about cosmology, abiogenesis and evolution and even quote mines Dawkins. It also make vast generalizations about biologists, asserting that they are elitist psychopaths who get aroused by suffering and slaughter. Renard contracts himself several times and expressed anti-scientific beliefs, such as the notion that predators where vegetarians before the Fall or that applied sciences are not true science because it does not deal with fundamental issues of physics. He also fails to understand basic principles of ecology, such as conservation, top predator, top-down effects and trophic cascades. Finally, he falsely equates Swedish political policy with Nazi Germany and claim that evolution was a certain principle in the Nazi genocides.
9. References and Further Reading
Hazen, R. M (2007). Genesis: The Scientific Quest For Life’s Origin. New York: Joseph Henry Press.
Yarus, M. (2011). Life from an RNA World: The Ancestor Within. Harvard University Press.
Atkins, J. F. et. al. (2011) RNA Worlds: From Life’s Origins to Diversity in Gene Regulation. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
Library of the University of Arizona. Lists of Banned Books, 1932-1939 . Accessed: 2011-09-07.